Alvarez campaign accepts donations from 60 workers

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Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez at a debate at the Sun-Times earlier this month | Ashlee Rezin/For Sun-Times

Fabio Valentini is one of the top prosecutors for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.

Jack Garcia runs Alvarez’s investigative squad, which consists of 100 or so police officers.

Raymond Balcarcel is the chief financial officer for the entire agency.

Aside from sharing the same boss, they have something else in common: They’re all donors to Alvarez’s campaign fund.

Valentini, the $153,000-a-year chief of criminal prosecutions, gave Alvarez’s political fund $300 in a donation recorded by the Illinois State Board of Elections on Dec. 4, plus a $250 donation recorded Sept. 30 and a $150 donation recorded July 17.

Garcia, the $140,000-a-year chief of investigations, gave $250 to Alvarez’s campaign fund in a contribution recorded Dec. 31, and another $250 in a donation dated Sept. 30.

Balcarcel, who is paid $119,000 a year by taxpayers, gave Alvarez’s campaign fund $250 in a donation recorded Dec. 31.

The three men aren’t alone. As Alvarez faces a tough re-election battle, her campaign has accepted more than 100 donations from roughly 60 employees who collectively gave almost $25,000 in the second half of 2015, elections board records show.

Neither Alvarez nor her aides would answer questions.

But Kim Foxx and Donna More, Alvarez’s two March 15 Democratic primary opponents who both have worked as Cook County prosecutors, said while they aren’t restricting campaign money from state’s attorney’s employees during this race, if elected, they won’t accept donations from their workers.

“I worked in the state’s attorney’s office before . . . and it was, from an employees’ standpoint, you’re in an uncomfortable position when your name is on an email list for a fundraiser,” Foxx said. “It was just an icky feeling so I don’t want to impose that on anybody.”

“There was always that cloud” that certain employees got promoted “because they went to a number of fundraisers,” and Foxx said she wants to avoid that perception.

Foxx acknowledged going “to maybe two of Anita’s fundraisers” in past years, “but I think I just snuck in, past the table because you’re broke.”

No donors on Foxx’s publicly available campaign reports are listed as state’s attorney employees. But only those giving $150 or more have to be mentioned, and Foxx said there are some employees who likely donated but less than the $150 disclosure threshold.

None of More’s donors are listed on campaign filings as state’s attorney workers either, but More said she knows of one state’s attorney employee who donated below that level to her campaign.

Even so, More said she thinks it’d be problematic to take campaign cash from underlings if she ran the office.

“I just think it’s a perception issue; obviously, there’s nothing illegal about it,” More said, adding she doesn’t want employees “to feel obligated” or to think promotions are dictated by campaign contributions.

Besides, More said, “it’s a hardship” for many employees to give, “these guys aren’t exactly overpaid.”

In the last three months of 2015, Alvarez’s campaign fielded 38 donations from 33 employees totaling more than $9,800, elections board records show.

In the third quarter of 2015, 42 employees donated 68 times for a total of more than $14,000, records show.

Some employees gave in both periods, so in all 59 Alvarez employees were donors in the second half of last year. The agency, which prosecutes criminal cases and represents county government in civil matters, has more than 1,100 employees.

The nearly $25,000 in employee donations represents about 5 percent of the $482,000 in individual donations accepted by Alvarez’s campaign fund during that time frame.

Balcarcel said he donated to Alvarez because “I’ve known Anita for more than 25 years and I consider her a friend and I will always support her.”

He said was “absolutely not” solicited for the donation.

Valentini and Garcia didn’t return calls.

Among the other Alvarez donors in 2015: Daniel Gallagher, who ran the state’s attorney’s civil division for Alvarez until resigning last October amid questions about crass Facebook posts he’d made, some possibly during work hours.

Gallagher gave $300 to Alvarez’s campaign in a donation dated July 29, and $250 recorded on Sept. 30.

It’s difficult to gauge the full level of employee giving prior to the period examined because each donor’s employer often wasn’t listed on Alvarez’s filings.

There’s no law preventing campaign donations from government employees to their political bosses, and such giving is common in Illinois.

This story was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Robert Herguth and Andrew Schroedter, who can be reached at rherguth@bettergov.org.

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